Lecture Series on Foundations of Science: Scientific Realism

Whether there exists something ‘real’ to be described by science is one of the oldest question in philosophy of science, and it is one of the fundamental pillars on which scientific disciplines are built. In particular, are theoretical entities introduced by scientific theories merely useful predictive tools, or rather do they offer a faithful description of an outside ‘real’ world? Do we have scientific (i.e. non- metaphysical) methods to discriminate between these world views?

In this regard, foundations of natural sciences were shaken by the advent of quantum mechanics. Indeed, this theory demolished most of the a priori ideas, upon which classical theories were built, including the conception of reality. Crucial fundamental issues in quantum theory, such as the ontological status of the wave function and of the properties of particles are still heatedly debated. As D. Mermin pointed out, “today, nearly 90 years after its formulation, disagreement about the meaning of the [quantum] theory is stronger than ever. New interpretations appear every day. None ever disappear”.

Despite the importance of the concept of realism for science, fundamental issues of such a kind are rarely treated in as much detail as they would deserve in university courses. Therefore, a group of students of the University of Vienna from different scientific fields (see naturwissenschaftscafe.wordpress.com) have organised a lecture series devoted to the subject of scientific realism. The lecture series will consist of nine lectures (in SS 2018), held by some of the most prominent (both international and local) professors in the field of foundations of quantum mechanics and philosophy of science. Moreover, the lecture series will be an official course of the University of Vienna, for which students could get ECTS upon passing an exam.

This initiative has been stimulated also by a very successful (over 200 attendees) symposium on foundations of science, entitled “Shut Up and Contemplate!”, which was organised in March 2017 (https://shutupandcontemplatesymposium.wordpress.com/).